June 10, 2008

My camera hasn't taken a sharp shot in months. No, it isn't the camera's fault but it isn't exactly mine either. The damn thing needs new batteries. We have rechargeables. Apparently, after the 100th recharge they lose umph. These rechargeables will run the camera. They will snap the shutterish thingy. (Do digitals have shutters?) But they can't quite power through the important details. They lose focus. They get soft as they age. And I resent having to replace them. I bought them so I wouldn't have to keep replacing batteries. So I am stuck. I work with what I have but that isn't quite getting the job done.

Yes, sometimes soft focus is a good thing. When you want to capture the ethereal whispery fear and excitement of a fairy headed out for her first big fairy sleepover, soft light and blurry edges covey an important nonverbal truth. And they look cool too.

But eventually if you want to tell the whole truth, you are going to need new batteries. You have to unstuck yourself and haul it down to the battery store where, next to shame, you can buy yourself more power.

I put one important caveat on our unschooling label. My children must read well. The fact that Ry isn't a natural reader (oh, so much like her mother) has been a huge challenge to both of us. I can look anyone in the eye and talk at great length about elementary school, what is important, what is not, and why we unschool. Except reading. Personally, I need my children to read and I have pushed it. I don't care about conflicting with unschooling philosophy.

Ry rejects phonics. She is a sight reader. She doesn't decode, she takes things in whole. And this applies to her world view as well. She (like her mother, aunts, and grandmother) has a spooky intuition that works in encompassing flashes of understanding that have little regard for details and the convenience of logic. This is a tedious and mysterious way to live. And it is not conducive to traditional rote learning. But we are wired this way and I insist we learn to read, never the less.

So for years, she and I have been sitting together with Dick and Jane and patiently calling out every word. SEE see DICK dick AND and JANE jane. For years, we have done this. We have done other things as well. But this one task has been most important. It did give her the words yet left her feeling dependent on me. If she won't decode, every new word requires Mom's help. Not a very secure approach, so she was stuck. And when I called for professional help I said, "I'm sorry to say this on many different levels, but I believe one part of her brain already knows how to read fairly fluently and is in conflict with another part of her brain, which is afraid and is holding her down." I thought sounded like a lunatic, yet I was understood right away.

I was told that many children are plagued with perfectionism. (I thought that was a grown up scourge.) It was explained to me that in attempting to read, children often encounter their very first Wrong Answer. Even if the wrong answer is treated respectfully and with great love, it is still wrong. This stops many children and it stopped Ry. She needed to break through her shame and find some confidence in her own style and power.
Dick and Jane, its obvious draw backs aside, is the penultimate sight word text. And Ry has a special affinity for that dear and rascally baby Sally. I think Sally and her babyishness was a comfort to Ry as she struggled over the words on the page. She was, at least, bigger than Sally. She could struggle and delight at the same time. We had gotten far enough that we were trading chapters. Ry reading me a chapter of Dick and Jane and I reading through Kit, An American Girl. I was starting to sweat, sensing that baby Sally would lose her charm eventually. And we were nearing the end of the tome, getting through all one hundred and thirty six pages. What would we do after Dick and Jane and, more importantly, baby Sally?

I was considering a tutor. Then Ry realised we were almost at the end. And that was what she needed. She needed to finish a big heavy book, a book that seemed to count. Suddenly she became like a horse for the wire. She began to read faster, requesting "another chapter, another trade, Mom?" five times the last day.

She found her confidence. Suddenly then the words have taken focus in her mind. They are sharper and ready for her. They leap up, known friends to greet. She is on her way, shedding her shame and finding her confidence as she goes. Suddenly willing to look more closely at new words, feeling less threatened, she will even decode. Tr u st. Trust? Is that right, Mom?

Yes, trust yourself Dear. You know more than you think


Mommylion said...

Oh what a beautiful fairy! The fuzziness works well on these pictures. :)

My whole camera is getting to that still functioning but not quite well enough phase. I hate the idea of replacing it, and continue to stall until I have no choice in the matter. I am afraid that time is nearing though.

Perfectionism is THE reason we homeschool. We unschooled reading, but ended up with the same sort of pattern you describe. It is awesome to witness that moment when they realize they are reading without trying. Good job mama!

RegularMom said...

Hey, Ry. You ROCK!

Have fun at that sleepover. :)

MOM #1 said...

Oh, I love beautiful fairy princesses! The fuzzy worked in those photos, but you're right, new batteries are indeed in order.